Combating Iran’s cycle of denial, deception, and delay
There are a series of specific undertakings that Iran must be called upon to do, and be verified as doing, if it is to comply with its international legal obligations.
Ashton and Jalili at Moscow nuclear talks Photo: REUTERS
Next Tuesday, Iran and six major powers – the permanent members of the UN
Security Council and Germany (the P5+1) – will hold yet another “technical”
meeting in Turkey – in the words of the leading EU negotiator – also yet again –
to “look further at how existing gaps in positions could be narrowed and how the
process could be moved forward.”
These technical discussions follow three
sets of “substantive negotiations” in Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow, between Iran
and the P5+1, all of which ended inconclusively.
While one may hope that
the narrowed focus of these talks will somehow produce a dramatically different
result than the previous sets of both substantive and technical negotiations,
experience demonstrates that such negotiations benefit Iran alone and are part
of a comprehensive Iranian strategy. Simply put, while negotiations continue,
uranium enrichment is accelerated, the centrifuges spin, and Tehran approaches
“breakthrough” capacity for nuclear weaponization – the whole in line with an
Iranian strategy of using negotiations as a means for advancing uranium
enrichment and the nuclear weaponization program itself.
That this, in
fact, may be Iranian strategy was revealed by the Iranians themselves on the eve
of the Baghdad negotiations on May 14, where Hamidreza Taraghi, an adviser to
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and close to the Iranian negotiating team,
summed up the Tehran’s “successes” during negotiations as follows: First,
Western countries did not want Iran to have a nuclear power plant, but its
Bushehr reactor was now connected to the national grid.
Second, the West
had opposed Iran having heavy water facilities, but the country now has one in
Third, the West had said no to any enrichment, “But here we are,
enriching as much as we need for our nuclear energy program,” Taraghi said,
referring to the thousands of cascades of centrifuges spinning for years in the
half-underground facility in Natanz.
Fourth, since January, and on the
eve of the resumed substantive negotiations in Istanbul in April, dozens more
advanced centrifuges were installed in the Fordo mountain bunker complex, near
Qum, built to withstand a heavy attack.
Fifth, Taraghi also said that in
the Istanbul talks, Iran had managed to convince the West of the importance of a
religious edict, or fatwa, against the possession of nuclear weapons.
a word, Taraghi and other Iranian officials concluded that their policy “forced
the United States to accept Iranian enrichment,” and in effect, the related
Earlier this year, Iranian negotiator Hassan Rowhani
elaborated on this strategy: “While we were talking with the Europeans in
Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the facility in
Rowhani added, “In fact, by creating a calm environment, we
were able to complete the work on Isfahan.”
Indeed, just as with Isfahan,
Iranians completed their work on the secret Fordo plant – uncovered by the West
in 2009 – but where the groundwork for this facility was laid as early as 2006
according to the International Atomic Energy Agency – and at a time when Iran
was offering to return to negotiations.
Moreover, statements this week
from Iranian officials – such as Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the chairman of an Iranian
foreign policy committee – that substantive talks will resume if sanctions
against Tehran are lifted – itself an ongoing Iranian negotiating mantra –
support the notion that not only are negotiations themselves a delaying tactic,
but delaying the negotiations is itself a tactic – part and parcel of the
comprehensive Iranian 3D strategy of denial, deception and delay: Denial of any
nuclear weaponization program to begin with; deception as to the depth and
breadth of that program; and delay, delay, delay! In addition, the focus on the
P5+1 negotiations with Iran is itself receding from the international radar
screen in the shadow of the dramatic developments in Egypt, Syria, Libya and the
like, thereby advancing the Iranian 3D strategy.
Accordingly, one may
well overlook the underlying intersecting dynamics that underpin the Iranian
weaponization program and the overall toxic convergence of the Iranian four-fold
threat: nuclear; statesanctioned incitement to genocide; statesponsorship of
international terrorism – and indeed, Iranian footprints appear yet again in
this week’s attack on Israelis in Bulgaria – possibly through its proxy,
Hezbollah; and massive domestic repression of human rights. Simply put, this
four-fold threat constitutes a clear and present danger to international peace
and security, to Middle East and regional stability, and increasingly, and
alarmingly so, to the Iranian people themselves.
An understanding of the
current negotiating context requires an appreciation of the underlying
intersection dynamics, which include: First, there is the standing violation by
Iran of international legal prohibitions respecting the development of a nuclear
weaponization program. In particular, Tehran continues to violate a series of UN
Security Council resolutions involving repeated demands for complete and
comprehensive suspension of its enrichment related, reprocessing and heavy water
activities – as well as repeatedly violating its obligations under the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty by denying the IAEA permission to openly inspect their
Second, there is compelling evidence – particularly that
which has emerged from the international nuclear monitor – the IAEA – that
Tehran’s nuclear program is, in fact, a nuclear weaponization program. As
international expert Anthony Cordesman recently concluded after an examination
of IAEA reports, “Anyone who concludes that Iran is not yet pursuing a nuclear
weapons program is deluding themselves.”
Third, while the comprehensive
economic sanctions – themselves authorized by UN Security Council resolutions –
are having an important effect – i.e. Iranian currency has lost half its value,
inflation is above 25 percent, unemployment is approaching 35 percents, Iranian
oil sits idle in Iranian tankers – the Iranian government is already finding
ways to circumvent some of their more detrimental effects by procuring new
super-tankers from China, disabling tracking devices in their ships, securing
alternative methods of banking, and forging strong trading relationships with
countries not in the pro-Western camp.
Fourth, even countries in the
pro-Western camp are continuing their trade with Iran.
Jerusalem Post reported last week that “hundreds” of German and Iranian
enterprises have a “flourishing trade relationship.”
German engineering giant Herrenknecht AG reportedly delivered heavy tunnelling
equipment to Iran – some of which is promoted as having the capability of
“drilling down to depths of 6,000 meters,” which could facilitate the building
of an underground nuclear facility.
Providing such “dual-use” items to
Iran – items that have civilian utility but could easily be used for prohibited
military purposes – is in breach of the sanctions themselves, and runs directly
contrary to the stated purposes, goals and objectives of the
Equally troubling is the recent Swiss refusal to adopt and endorse
EU sanctions barring energy and financial transactions with Tehran. Indeed, some
fear this “loophole” may be exploited by oil companies, and it should be noted
that Switzerland is one of the top centers for oil trading, and also hosts a
branch of the National Iranian Oil Company NICO, although the country does not
import oil from Iran.
Fifth, while the P5+1 has affirmed that an Iranian
nuclear weapon is “unacceptable” – that the objective is preventing Iran from
acquiring a nuclear weapon as distinct from containing a nuclear Iran – and that
no option “is off the table,” the protracted negotiations and the Iranian 3D
strategy exploiting these negotiations – have undercut these declared positions
of the P5+1.
Sixth, while there is increasing reference – and indeed
indulgence – of the purported fatwa issued by Khamenei prohibiting a nuclear
weaponization program as “sinful” and “contrary to Islam” – which some
commentators have taken as conclusive in and of itself that Iran’s intentions
are peaceful and its nuclear program civil in intent and consequence – this
ignores not only the findings of the “military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear
program, as determined, inter alia, by the IAEA, but the permissibility within
Islam itself to deceive the enemy where it serves a higher interest – including
the specific authority in Islam for the supreme leader to do exactly
One should recall the report by the IAEA itself in 2009 to the
effect that Khamenei as early as 1984 had endorsed a decision by the then-leader
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to launch a secret nuclear weapons
In the words of the IAEA report – and a chilling reminder of
Iranian intent and consequence – “according to Khamenei, this was the only way
to secure the very essence of the Islamic Revolution from the schemes of its
enemies... and to prepare it for the emergence of Imam
Accordingly, the crucial question, then, is how to prevent what
the P5+1 has deemed “unacceptable” – a nuclear Iran – given that the Iranian 3Ds
have thus far prevailed? How do we ensure that these P5+1 negotiations succeed
in halting the nuclear weaponization program rather than continuing their path
of inconclusive results, leading to more weaponization?
There are a series of
specific undertakings that Iran must be called upon to do, and be verified as
doing, if it is to comply with its international legal obligations. Among these
undertakings, which should serve as a benchmark for an effective negotiation,
are the following:
1. Iran must undertake to abide by, and fully implement, its
obligations under Security Council resolutions and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Iranian compliance should not be seen as a “concession” for which
the West must necessarily reward Iran, but rather a set of obligations that Iran
must independently adhere to and comply with. Simply put, there is no Iranian
“right to enrich,” the most recent of the Iranian negotiating mantras.
Iran must – as a threshold requirement – verifiably suspend its uranium
enrichment program, so as to counter the Iranian strategy of delay, or buying
time for a nuclear breakthrough. Indeed, as US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta
put it – and international experts have similarly made this point – if the
Iranian enrichment program is not suspended, Iran will have a nuclear bomb by
the end of 2012, with all the consequences relevant thereto.
3. Iran must
ship its supply of enriched uranium out of the country where it can be
reprocessed and made available to Iran, under appropriate inspection and
monitoring, for use in its civil nuclear program.
4. Iran must verifiably
close – and dismantle – its nuclear enrichment plant at Fordow, embedded in a
mountain near Qom, which the Iranians had initially denied had even existed.
Otherwise, Iranian enrichment at Fordow will enter the zone of impenetrability
rendering it closed to inspection and immune from any military strike.
Iran must suspend its heavy water production facilities at Arak. It is sometimes
forgotten that heavy water is an essential component for producing plutonium,
which is the nuclear component North Korea used to build its own nuclear weapon.
Simply put, the path to nuclear weaponization need not be traveled by uranium
enrichment alone – and the suspending of uranium enrichment, however necessary,
will not alone result in Iran verifiably abandoning its nuclear weaponization
6. Iran must allow IAEA inspectors immediate and unfettered
access to any suspected nuclear sites. Indeed, as a signatory to the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran is bound by its obligations not to pursue nuclear
weapons and to open its nuclear sites and installation.
7. It should not
be forgotten that Iranian authorities had announced – even boasted – in 2009 and
2010 of their intention to build 10 additional uranium enrichment facilities.
The IAEA still has not received any substantive response to its request for
information about this nuclear archipelago of additional uranium
8. Again, one should not ignore that Iran’s nuclear
weaponization program continued to advance against the backdrop of the 3Ds of
denial, deception, and delay. For example, in 2007 and 2010 Iran continued to
conceal its nuclear activities by not informing the IAEA of its decision to
build a new nuclear plant at Denkhovia, or the additional enrichment facility –
the aforementioned Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant. Therefore, the need for
inspection – and verification – is crucial, and must include the Iranian
authorities providing the IAEA the requisite access, as the IAEA has called for,
to the necessary documentation, personnel, sites etc. that Iran is
9. Iranian authorities need to grant the IAEA access to the
Parchin military complex near Tehran. As the IAEA has reported, Iran has
conducted high explosive testing – possibly in conjunction with nuclear
materials – at the complex. As Anthony Cordesman has reported, these are “strong
indicators of possible weapons development.”
Yet Iranian authorities have
repeatedly denied such access to the IAEA – including refusing such visits in
January and February 2012, while at the same time dismissing the IAEA
information as a set of “forgeries.” Moreover, Yukiya Amano, the IAEA chief, has
called access to Parchin a “priority,” citing also the sanitization of the site
– and possible removal of incriminating evidence of weaponization – this past
This might explain information that emerged to the effect that the
Iranians were prepared to grant access to Parchin.
Iran is already being credited for this “concession,” which its alleged
sanitization – and cover-up of the evidence – would have made such access less
meaningful in any case, and where access to Parchin alone is but a minuscule
part of the undertakings to which Iran must adhere.
10. Iran needs to
allow the IAEA to install devices on centrifuges for the monitoring of uranium
enrichment levels. Simply put, Iran could move to weapons grade uranium even if
it is using only low enriched uranium, by increasing both the number and the
speed of the centrifuges.
11. As Senators Joe Lieberman, John McCain and
Lindsey Graham put it in their recent Wall Street Journal article, there needs
to be an additional agreement respecting “intrusive inspections based on the
Additional Protocol under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to ensure the
Iranians aren’t lying or cheating about the full scope of their program, as they
have in the past.”
12. Negotiations should not ignore, marginalize or be
allowed to sanitize Iran’s massive domestic repression, or provide cover for
When the US negotiated an arms control agreement with
the Soviet Union, it did not turn a blind eye to the USSR’s human rights abuses.
Indeed, the Helsinki Final Act linked the security, economic and human rights
baskets. Negotiations with Iran should do no less.
13. Nor should the
negotiators ignore Iran’s ongoing state-sanctioned incitement to hate and
genocide, a standing violation of the Genocide Convention. Simply put, Iran has
already committed the crime of incitement to genocide prohibited under
international law and should be called to account to cease and desist from such
incitement, and its perpetrators called to account.
In summary, given the
Iranian 3D pattern of denial, deception and delay, the whole while uranium
continues to be enriched and centrifuges continue to spin – and while the
nuclear weaponization program is on the verge of a “breakthrough” – only a
verifiable abandonment by Iran of its nuclear weapons pursuits will
For that objective to be secured, negotiations must not be a
cover for the 3Ds, but a password to full Iranian compliance with their
international obligations, and a benchmark for international peace and
The writer is a member of the Canadian Parliament and a former
minister of justice and attorney-general of Canada. He is cochairman of the
Inter-Parliamentary Group for Human Rights in Iran, and a member of the advisory
board of United Against Nuclear Iran. He is a professor of Law (Emeritus) at